I got a most surprising call this week.
Gayle Keller and her husband Alex have owned several restaurants in Calistoga over the last four decades – they were among the pioneers of Napa County’s now booming dining culture. I see her around town often, but until Tuesday, she had never called me on the phone at the Register.
As we passed pleasantries, my mind did its usual scan through all the possible reasons someone might call me out of the blue. What mistake did we make? What event did we leave out of the calendar? What way had we offended or overlooked her?
But it was none of that. Instead, she wanted to share her love of journalists with the world.
Somewhere along the line, Gayle had seen something about national “Hug a Newsperson Day” (formerly known as “Hug a Newsman Day”). The next one is set for April 4.
The idea has been around at least a decade, perhaps longer, but in these troubled times, Gayle explained, it is more important than ever to have a robust media culture. So Gayle prevailed on Calistoga’s mayor to issue a pro-free-press proclamation at the April 4 City Council meeting, and she is hosting a pro-press reception at Hydro Grill the evening before.
I have to admit that in 30 years in journalism, this is the first time I have heard of Hug a Newsperson Day, and absolutely the first time someone has invited me to a reception celebrating what we do, at least somebody who isn’t herself a journalist.
Journalists don’t do it for the public appreciation, by and large, but it does feel nice to be appreciated.
Journalists have been called a lot of names over the years – sensationalists, hacks, incompetents, monsters. We have been accused of corruption, venality, thoughtlessness, and hard-heartedness.
Lately we’ve been called “scum” and “liars,” and even “enemies of the people.”
If you know journalists, however, you’ll know we’re mostly just regular people who are lucky enough to have a job serving as the eyes and ears of the public. We care deeply about our communities and our readers and viewers. We’re fallible and human – we’re sad when we make a mistake or cause someone unneeded pain. We shudder in horror when we witness tragedy, we cheer when we witness triumph, and we feel loss when some member of the community dies or falls from grace.
In other words, we’re just like you, except we get to write about the interesting things we see and the interesting people we meet.
Most journalists quickly develop a thick skin and learn not to take nasty remarks personally. But honestly, sometimes it does hurt to be on the receiving end of abuse, even if you know it isn’t personal. So it is sort of nice to know that people like what you do enough to declare a national day – and host a reception to celebrate.
Of course, not everyone in our newsroom was quite so enamored of the “Hug” angle. As I described the event, one of my staff pursed her lips in thought.
“So I have to spend the day being touched by strangers?” she asked.
It seemed a fair point, since not everyone really appreciates random hugs.
So on April 4, please feel free to show your appreciation for your local journalists, but there is no need to actually manhandle us. We’ll enjoy the hugs just as much if they’re only metaphorical.